Reviewed: August 26, 2011
Series: Sylph, Book 2
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Length: 336 Pages
Formats: Paperback, Kindle, Nook
It was meant to be nothing more than a small taste of freedom, a tiny rebellion against overprotective guardians, and a chance for a girl on the cusp of womanhood to stretch her wings a little. Eighteen-year-old Lizzy Petrule and her friend Loren slipped away from the group who traveled to Para Dubh from their home in Sylph Valley and headed to the docks. They wanted to see the ocean. Lizzy was unaware of the danger, of the nature of some of the people who do business at the waterfront of the much larger, harsher kingdom. Loren's water sylph Shore whisked Loren away from the large, scary man she'd been flirting with moments before he lunged for them both. Lizzy, not having a sylph, wasn't so lucky.
When Leon Petrule and the battle sylph Ril returned from the queen's mission, Solie pulled Leon aside to break the news that his daughter had been taken by slavers from a distant kingdom. The battle sylphs she had sent out to find Lizzy had come back with a bit of information on the kidnapper's likely destination, but empty-handed. Heartbroken and with little hope on how to find her, Leon returns to his family to mourn.
Sensing his master's misery, Ril races to the family's side, and when he finds out Lizzy has been taken, he digs down deep, to the proof of a secret he's held close to his heart for years. He's loved Lizzy since he watched her being born. She saved him from the madness of seeing his master kill the woman he'd come through the gateway to claim and since then he's waited for her to grow, to mature. He'd wanted her to be his queen, but Solie ascended instead. He nearly killed himself making Lizzy his master.
And he can find her.
Leon, Ril, and a young man named Justin travel south to the edge of the world, to a kingdom of unimaginable size and power, with thousands of sylph, several hundreds of which are the deadly battle sylphs. They go to find Lizzy and bring her home. They go because they love her. They go...and what they find, what they experience, what they risk, and what they lose will change their lives forever.
I have a confession to make. I'm an addict. It's horrible, I know, but it's true. I can't get enough. I'm completely hooked on battle sylphs. It's not an easy addiction to have, either, as you get the oddest looks when you finally do the responsible thing and try seek help. No one seems to understand quite what you're talking about and people start whispering to each other and pointing at you when they read the little questionnaire thingie you filled out at the doctor's office. Can't imagine why. And hello...rude!
Alas, I fear I'm doomed to the ravening madness of utter fangirlness. I, of course, blame my sylph dealer, L.J. McDonald. It's all her fault. How dare she create this unique, breathlessly original world and populate it so deftly with these amazing, tortured creatures who would do anything for the love of a woman? How could she be so callous to her innocent readers by spinning such dastardly epic tales of slavery, hatred, fear, and murder, of the battle against tyranny and oppression, and the equality of women in a society that views them as chattel? Does she have no conscience? That much awesome storytelling just isn't legal!
This particular kick-ass, gut-wrenching book prominently featured the two most intriguing characters from the first book among its ensemble cast. Adviser and enforcer for the queen, Leon Petrule and his battle sylph Ril, the broken warrior, have a relationship defined by a complex mix of conflicting emotions. Their master/battler history is brutal and tragic, and even six years after Leon's awakening to the true nature of the battle sylph and his understanding of what he did to the battler he loves, their relationship is still a quagmire of cautious partnership and long-remembered pain. For me, it's the most brilliant aspect of both books so far.
That doesn't mean I didn't love the storyline of this book, of course. It started out with some genuinely humorous moments, and became more and more serious as the book progressed, and I found myself utterly captivated by what I was reading. By the time Leon, Ril, and Justin got to Meridal you couldn't have pried my Kindle from my hand with a crowbar, and you would've been wise to watch your back had you even tried.
McDonald has an impressive ability to make irredeemable actions somehow forgivable, and irredeemable characters ultimately lovable. Lest we forget, the reason Leon Petrule, one heck of a protagonist, has a battle sylph at all is because he brutally, if expediently, slaughtered a young woman years ago. To say his past is checkered is oversimplifying to the nth degree. He so deeply regrets his actions, and feels such remorse over not only what he did to the girl, but the effect it had on Ril, that he remains sympathetic. With even the tiniest miss in his character development, his past atrocity would have been an ultimate deal breaker for me. It's testament to McDonald's mad skills that it is not.
Not every single aspect of the world and this book was quite as rosy. While I wasn't nearly as put off by Lizzy as I was by Solie in the first book, she still wasn't my favorite character, and I'm still not fond of how young the lead female characters have been in this series. Lizzy's immaturity, naivety, and ignorance, and the brutal consequences of all three, frustrated me not because it wasn't well written, but because I flat out don't like damsels in distress. I thought her character functioned better as a symbol than an actual person in this book, though I can't help but be thrilled for her and Ril.
As in the first book, my pleasure with the ensemble cast and my love for the storyline far outweighs my minor grievances. Eapha and Tooie were fantastic, and the paired up group of battle sylph and their loves among the concubines was a delight in both character and story. And I just can't say enough about Leon and Ril, though I thought Justin was a toss. His involvement occasionally seemed contrived and heavy-handed. I missed the characters I became so fond of in the previous book who weren't included, or were included in this book only briefly, but the strength of the story and the new characters thoroughly entertained.
I'm hooked on this series. Completely, irrevocably hooked. I'd caution readers about one thing, though. This series is considered by some to be fantasy romance. I can understand why, but I disagree. Yes, there was a relationship between Solie and Heyou in the first book, and yes, there is one between Lizzy and Ril in this one, but while the development and evolution of those two relationships may be the driving force behind the story that's written in each case, the actual forming and evolution of those relationships are strictly ancillary plot threads that remain on the fringes of a layered plot full of action and suspense. If you go in expecting or wanting a more traditional romance arc, you could be disappointed. For my personal tastes, it's a plus, because like I said, both Solie and Lizzy were very young in age and in action, and seemed closer to little girls than grown women - so much so in parts that I had to force myself not to think about their age. Having a major romance plotline with them in the lead roles wouldn't have appealed to me.
This book, on the other hand, did appeal to me. It gave me the perfect hit of sylph love. For an addict such as myself, we live for those hits. The good news is that the next opportunity to satisfy my addiction will be out in a few weeks, with the third book in the series, Queen of the Sylphs set to release mid-September in paperback (according to Amazon.com) and late September for the Kindle (according to the publisher). The best news is I have an ARC of QotS that was provided to me courtesy of Dorchester Publishing and NetGalley.
Just...um...ignore my girly squeal and shimmy of pleasure.
I am resolute in my determination not to cave to the sylph withdrawal, however, and to hold off reading and reviewing QotS until closer to the release date. Who knows how long it'll take to get my next fix after what I'm sure will be QotS delight? I must manage my battle sylph addiction! I can do this. I'm strong willed! I will not give in!!
*Glances at her Kindle, pursing her lips and muttering under her breath*
I'm gonna fold like wet cardboard.
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